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The Australian Education Blog
Ray Fleming's take on what's interesting in Education IT in Australia

  • Education

    Why is the Cloud so important to software developers?


    Imagine you’re a big IT supplier. You build a successful business by being responsive to your customers, and giving them what they need. If the customer is a big one, then normally their budget is too. And so, their list of requirements is big too. Which means that when they want to do IT projects, they are normally big ones. And you have all the expertise needed to give them advice, support, consultancy, implementation and deployment.

    Someone's nibbling my pieThen along comes the Cloud. It means that small companies can offer a very specific service - not a big IT system - to one of your customers. And instead of buying a big computer system to do everything that they can imagine, they buy a service to deliver a small part of their overall IT service. At first, it’s only a small nibble from a big IT pie. But over time, the nibble can become a bite. And eventually some of the pie disappears.

    And it’s a good thing for the customer - they can solve business problems with speedier and more targeted solutions and quicker procurement.

    Of course, it’s already happening today…

    At the Microsoft World Partner Conference, Janison were finalists in the Education Partner of the Year Awards.

    A small Coffs Harbour company was sandwiched between two global giants - Desire2Learn (6 million users) and Cornelsen Publishers (3,000 employees and a turnover of 450 million Euro). They’re a small regional Australian business that’s competing against the world’s biggest and best.

    They can do this because of the Cloud, because they can focus on their core competencies - eg software development - and leave the job of running the big infrastructure that you need to administer an exam for 100,000 students to somebody else (in their case, the Windows Azure service).

    Wayne Houlden, the Janison CEO, puts it succinctly on his blog:

      It highlights for me just how much is changing, how now small and nimble companies anywhere in the world can build applications that significantly change the software application and services landscape  

    The end is not nigh…

    This doesn’t mean that the end of the big IT projects/suppliers is coming, but that instead we’re going to see things changing. Smaller companies will compete with bigger ones, as they always have. And big projects will continue to be developed and procured. But the way that things are done will change. When it’s quicker to build the product than it is to write the specification documents, it means that software development, and IT procurement, is going to be fundamentally different in the future.

    We’re going to see more nimble projects, with a chance of keeping up with the more nimble users (as you’ll be seeing, if ‘corporate IT’ can’t keep up, they’ll just go out and use a public web 2.0 service).

    But change is….

    All of our business models are going to change. And the Education IT business is going to look very different in five years time.

    Learn MorePerhaps these articles might help?

  • Education

    Ten of the best - SharePoint School websites


    A colleague asked me to recommend some school websites built on SharePoint, that they could share with others. After I’d finished it for him, I thought I’d pop it into a PowerPoint for others - and then go further by popping up a quick blog post too. Here’s my take on 10 School SharePoint websites that are worth looking at for design ideas and inspiration - or simply because you want to nudge another colleague towards seeing that SharePoint beauty can start at skin deep.

    Click on any of them to link to the live website

    1. Twynham School Sixth Form, Christchurch, UK

    2. John Paul College, Queensland, Australia

    3. Victoria Department of Education’s FUSE site

    4. West Hatch High School, Essex, UK

    5. Hale School, Western Australia

    6. Wootton Bassett School, Wiltshire, UK

    7. Brigidine College, New South Wales, Australia

    8. Brookfields Specialist SEN School, Berkshire, UK

    9. Florida Virtual School, USA

    10. Twynham School Sixth Form, Christchurch, Dorset

      Note: The reason I listed this twice isn’t me cheating - I simply wanted to make sure that you saw their amazing interactive curriculum pages, and I know you’d kick yourself if you hadn’t seen it at No.1

    Learn MoreDownload the PowerPoint version of Top 10 School SharePoint websites

  • Education

    Get the Education blog on your Windows Phone 7


    imageI have to admit, I thought my days of programming were behind me. But thanks to AppMakr and the Windows Phone 7 App Hub, I’m reliving the heady days of my first job (whilst in Sixth Form) of being a programmer. And I’ve created a free app that gives you this Education blog on your Windows Phone 7, along with the live feed of the worldwide Microsoft Education case studies, and direct access to the official press release news stream we provide for journalists.

    It’s my first app for 20 years, and was published on the Windows Phone 7 Marketplace on Friday night. The experience of creating the app was pretty smooth - mainly because I was aiming to bring together a series of existing RSS feeds. In fact, the most time consuming part was creating all of the graphics needed - the WP7 tiles in 3 sizes, the splash screen, a header graphic, and the screen shots needed for the marketplace. But once they were all in place, it was pretty seamless.

    If you’ve got a Windows Phone, then hopefully this makes keeping in touch with education blog news easier - as well as connecting you to the education case studies that are published on the worldwide Microsoft Case Studies website.


    To get the free app on your phone, you can either use this link [Australian Education Partner Blog] or search for ‘Education Blog’ in the Marketplace on your Windows Phone.

  • Education

    Halo Spartan on a US campus


    The video below is an advert from the US, advertising the student PC offer

    Halo Spartan promotes the US Student offer - buy a PC, get an Xbox free

    It’s a shame we don’t get adverts like this - or offers like this - in Australia…

    I know this is slightly off topic - but then it is Friday afternoon, and it is about students…

  • Education

    How to list your applications on the Windows Azure Marketplace


    Unsurprisingly, since I wrote yesterday about the first Australian education software to be listed on the Windows Azure Marketplace I’ve had a couple of emails from Microsoft partners who also have Azure applications that they’d like to be listed. So, for them - and others who haven’t yet sent the email Smile - here’s the answer:

    Listing software on the Windows Azure Marketplace

    As of today, you can only sell your applications through the Windows Azure Marketplace if you are in the US, but it will be expanded to additional countries in the coming months. However, you can have your application listed (as Avaxa did), and benefit from the exposure. All of the information that you need to do this is on this page: Publishing on Windows Azure Marketplace. The same method also applies to datasets that you might want to publish - either free datasets, or ones that you want to sell with a subscription fee.

    Here’s the short video from the Azure team that shows how to add a software or data listing on the Azure Marketplace:

    Short video walkthrough (saves a lot of reading!)

    Learn MoreLearn More about publishing on the Windows Azure Marketplace

  • Education

    Feeling nostalgic? Your students may not be


    Over in Los Angeles, there are thousands of Microsoft partners gathered together for the Microsoft World Partner Conference (you can follow along on the DigitalWPC website). The big events like this often produce new product announcements, but what has caught me eye is an announcement linked to both old and new products.

    400 million copies of Windows 7, and counting

    Tami Reller, who is the Corporate Vice President of the Windows business, said some interesting things, and made a few announcements on new things during her keynote. The announcement that I noticed was that customers have now bought 400 million copies of Windows 7 - which means it’s being adopted at three times the pace of Windows XP. And that was linked to the stat that 27% of the Internet runs Windows 7. [That’s all in this transcript] And Tami told stories of customers who’d committed to moving their users to the latest version of Windows (including General Motors, Ford, Dow Chemical and San Diego school district). All good so far.

    Two thirds of business PC are still on Windows XP

    Windows XP logoThe shock came when Tami said that today, the problem is that two-thirds of PCs are still on Windows XP (despite the cost savings possible with Windows 7 and the fact that there’s only a thousand days to end of life for Windows XP).

    I know that it’s not quite as bad as that in Australian education customers, but there’s still a sizeable proportion of computers in schools, TAFEs and universities that are running Windows XP. Whilst I know that some staff will like this (after all, they have a reputation for resisting change), it does mean that students are probably getting the worst deal.

    97% of students have their own PC at home - and the overwhelming majority will be running Windows 7 on it.

    And then they come into the classroom. And they are expected to use a computer running Windows XP - an operating system that was launched in 2001. And that doesn’t do any of the cool, media savvy things that they can do on their home computer.

    What’s my point?

    Students are used to living, working, collaborating and communicating in a digital age. And if we want them to be engaged in the classroom, then perhaps asking them to turn their clocks back ten years when they switch on a computer isn’t fair, and isn’t going to engage them.

    So, to put it into perspective, here’s ten things that your students have never lived without - and which didn’t even exist when we launched Windows XP…

    Ten things that didn’t exist when Windows XP was launched in October 2001

    1. The iPod (came along in November 2001)
    2. Xbox (also November 2001)
    3. iTunes for Windows (that didn’t arrive until April 2003, nearly two years after the iPod)
    4. 3G phones (didn’t arrive in Australia until April 2003 either)
    5. LinkedIn (that wasn’t invented until May 2003)
    6. Skype (August 2003)
    7. Facebook (that arrived in February of 2004)
    8. Xbox 360 (ie the connected one. That arrived in May 2005)
    9. Video chat as part of MSN Messenger (came along in August 2005)
    10. Video chat in Skype (even later, January 2006)
  • Education

    The Windows Azure Marketplace for applications


    Yesterday, I wrote about half of the Windows Azure Marketplace - the availability of global datasets. Today, I wanted to look at the other half - the Windows Azure Marketplace for Applications. This is the place where software publishers can promote their Cloud applications based on Windows Azure, and make them available worldwide.

    Currently there are 479 applications available, in a range of categories - weather, business, consumer goods, entertainment, reference, statistics -and the list has just had a big update. But I want to highlight just one today, an education management application from an Australian company, which was added to the Azure Marketplace last Friday:

    STRATA from Avaxa

    imageSTRATA is a management application for the Business of Education for tertiary and vocational education. It supports administration functions for the life cycle of a student. This includes: Enrolment, Fees, Timetables, Assessments, BI analytics and more. It is a client server application with support for both rich Windows user interface and comprehensive browser user interface. It can be deployed on Windows Azure or on-premises.

    The beauty of the Avaxa system is that by using the Windows Azure service, they offer TAFEs a way of running a student management system without having to install and run their own server hardware - instead they can just use the subscription service in the Microsoft datacentres, giving much more flexibility for peaks and troughs of usage (one of the huge advantages of the Cloud for education is that you only pay for the capacity to use - which means you don’t have to have lots of servers running during the holidays, and you can easily scale the system for peak demand - like enrolment periods).

    Learn MoreFind our more about the Avaxa STRATA education management system on the Avaxa website

    There are other education applications in the Windows Azure Marketplace from companies outside of Australia - including  KooDooZ (a cause-based social media application for students) and EurekaZing (which helps ‘explain hard to imagine science concepts using visualisation and interactivity’). Here’s a link to the Education list.
    I imagine we’re going to see a lot more applications appearing in the marketplace soon - there are other Australian education applications running on Windows Azure that aren’t listed, so hopefully they’ll be appearing shortly.

  • Education

    What would happen if your students and researchers had access to the world’s data?


    Windows Azure Marketplace iconDid you know that there is a Windows Azure Marketplace for data? You can use it to get big datasets (some free, some paid for) to work with and integrate into your own analysis. You don’t have to be a Windows Azure user - you could just use it a source for data for a spreadsheet. It’s good for researchers and students, and also for the business-side of education (like student recruitment, or research grant applications).

    The Windows Azure Data Market

    There’s a list of 119 datasets currently available, which can be linked through to your own BI tools, Office applications, or your custom applications. Some of the 61 free datasets that are there include:

    • UN National Accounts Official Country Data statistics, for most countries of the world from 1970 onwards
    • UN Key Global Indicators, covering key economic, social, financial and development topics
    • UN Gender Info, containing gender statistics and indicators on a wide range of policy areas, including population, families, health, education, work, and political participation.
    • World Bank Development Indicators, from official statistics, including national, regional and global estimates
    • UN World Telecomms/ICT indicators, with over 100 data sets over 200 economies worldwide
    • UNESCO UIS Data - over 1,000 types of indicators and raw data on education, literacy, science and technology, culture and communication, collected from 200 countries.

    And the list of commercial data sets, available on subscription, is amazing - such as financial information from companies like Dun & Bradstreet, food ingredient and nutrition listings from Gregg London - but there isn’t yet a comprehensive data set for Australia.

    With the Data Market, you subscribe to a data set, and then can bring that data into your own work - for example, use PowerPivot in Excel to link UN Gender Data to other research data you may be working with.

    • If you’re a researcher working on a study of global economics, you can extend your research findings out by mixing your own data with official UN economy statistics.
    • Or if you are responsible for overseas student recruitment in a university or private school, you could use up to date economic or telecomms data to work out your strategy for identifying and reaching new target markets.

    We’re still in the early days of this kind of data marketplace, but you can see where things are likely to be heading - As we start to see the Australian governments increasingly sharing their data with the public, I can see there will be some fascinating applications being developed that mix your own private data together with public datasets to help you make more informed decisions.

    For an idea of how simple this is to use, then take a look at the 4 minute video below from Christian Liensberger, a programme manager in the Data Market team, who shows you an example of bringing national crime data into an Excel spreadsheet.

    Christian’s example of building a spreadsheet using US Crime Data

    Learn MoreLearn more in the Windows Azure Marketplace

  • Education

    Windows Intune gets a Tune Up


    Windows Intune logoWindows Intune is a cloud-based PC management and security service, which is especially useful for IT support organisations to provide management for smaller customers (for example, where a small school outsources the support of their school’s computers to a local IT company, because it doesn’t have it’s own IT technican). As it’s a subscription service, it means that you can enrol computers on a month-to-month basis, and then manage them all from a central console. And IT support teams can support computers across multiple organisations - making it easy to support a number of different schools through the same team and a single console.

    Currently Windows InTune allows you to centrally:

    • Manage updates on your PCs
    • Protect PCs from malware
    • Track hardware and software inventory
    • Proactively monitor PCs, and receive alerts on threats and out-of-date PCs
    • Provide remote assistance
    • Set security policies
    • Create and run reports, to give you things such as installed software lists

    Windows InTune beta

    We’ve just announced that you can now try out the next beta version of Windows InTune, due for final release later this year, and there are some really interesting developments for education users. I think the most important one is the ability to remotely distribute and install software, even without having to get the computer on-site. This is going to be brilliant if you’re running things like 1:1 laptop schemes, or you want to deploy new software out to student and teacher laptops during the long holidays.

    The top improvements are:

    • Software distribution: With this release, administrators can deploy most Microsoft and third-party updates or software applications to PCs virtually anywhere, without the need for a server infrastructure or physically touching each PC to install the software or update.
    • Remote Tasks: This update allows IT to perform tasks, including full scan, quick scan, restart, and update malware definition all from the administration console. If there is an alert for a malware threat for example, administrators can run a scan on the affected PC by simply right-clicking on the PC from the administration console.
    • Read-only Access: IT pros and partners can grant select administrators read-only access to the administration console so that they can view PC information as needed, but not perform any tasks.

    With these changes, Windows Intune becomes much more interesting for education users, either as a tool for schools to run themselves (for larger schools), or for support partners to develop services to offer to smaller schools. Although it doesn’t have the full management capabilities of the Microsoft System Center suite, it’s a good option compared to not having any management tools at all!

    Learn MoreYou can find out about the full list of features and sign up for a beta account, on the Windows Intune site on Springboard

  • Education

    International students in Higher Education in Australia


    There are three big sources of revenue for Australian universities - Australian students, international students and research. The balance between all of these revenue sources is interdependent:

    • Funding from students typically subsidises research work
    • Universities charge international students up to three times as much as Australian students (which can be used to subsidise research and local students)
    • Numbers of Australian students are limited by government targets and funding limits (although that changes next year)

    When you’re dealing with universities, it’s good to know what’s going on with each of these funding streams. About 22% of revenue comes from research grants, and a further 18% comes from international students (although in some universities, this can be up to 30%) - that’s over $4 billion.

    Deloitte have just finished a report, paid for by Universities Australia (the body representing 39 Australian universities) which looks at the effects of changes in international student numbers. Of course, it may not be entirely unbiased - with education being a major export (third largest) for Australia, there’s an agenda here about ensuring the government support increasing international students. But it does contain some interesting reference points:

    • In 2010 there was a slowing in the growth in international students, following tighter visa rules, the stronger Australian dollar, attacks on international students and more international competition for students.
    • The forecast for 2011 is a fall in new international students of 23%, resulting in a drop of 3.2% in overall international students
    • Further ahead, 2012 is forecast to be another weak year, and then growth returns after 2012
    • The impact of all of this is a reduction in revenue for universities of half a billion dollars a year

    Learn MoreRead the full Deloitte Report ‘Broader implications from a downturn in international students

    Read ‘Lost international student enrolments may cost Australia billions’ on The Conversation

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